December 20th, 2006

Bewildered and Besieged, Bush Takes Refuge in Lieberman’s “Happy Place”

by Philip Baruth

The Washington Post is running what passes for a major headline these days: the President has admitted that the United States is not winning the war in Iraq.

bush, as el diablo“‘We’re not winning, we’re not losing,’ Bush said in an interview with The Washington Post. The assessment was a striking reversal for a president who, days before the November elections, declared, ‘Absolutely, we’re winning.’”

As the Post rightly notes, this is the first time Bush has admitted the “not winning” half of the “not-winning but somehow not-losing” binary.

And so in that way, on a purely technical basis, it counts as news. But look — just for a moment, put aside the nearly explicit admission in the above quote that Bush deliberately misrepresented the state of affairs in Iraq to win an election. Put aside the petulant elementary-school feel of the “But Not Losing” formulation itself.

What Bush has described is simply not possible.

Two armies — or three, or four, however many currently occupy the field in Iraq — cannot face off over a course of years, and achieve perfect stalemate.

Either the number of enemy fighters is decreasing or increasing; either the amount of territory controlled is larger or smaller; either you are nearer your goals in waging war, or more distant.

By every single conceivable measure, the US is losing, if we have not lost already. And yet, the media is content to accept Bush’s grudging, absurdist formulation as half a loaf.

It puts VDB in mind of another Iraq War stalwart — Big Joe Lieberman.

Pressed hard by Ned Lamont’s candidacy, Lieberman finally developed what we refer to as the “Happy Place” formulation: Lieberman claimed to support neither “an open-ended committment in Iraq” nor a “fixed time-table for withdrawal.”

Which is — in both the English language and the reality it purports to describe — an impossibility. Open-ended simply means “unfixed,” after all.

It would be as though Lieberman claimed to be neither altogether dead nor really quite alive — which might explain some aspects of Lieberman’s face, voice, and political posturing, but would be otherwise nonsensical.

LieberbushOnly in Lieberman’s happy place does such a possibility exist. And now Bush has joined him there, content to not win as long as everyone will agree that he isn’t losing.

Ned Lamont ran ads morphing Lieberman into Bush — a move that looks absolutely prophetic in December, 2006.

But why is the Post reporting this self-serving nonsense with a straight face? Every media outlet in the country should have called Joe Lieberman on the cycle’s most outrageous dodge, regardless of their various positions on the war.

That sort of denial gets people badly killed.

They didn’t. By and large, Lieberman skated to victory by making noises about wanting “to bring the troops home as quickly as possible” — only to wag his tail frantically when McCain pushed a troop surge after the election.

But here’s another opportunity: every editorial board in the nation should blast Bush into 2007 for this latest attempt to subvert the language.

We can only go one of two ways, at this point. Tell the widows of the soldiers that their husbands are not whole, but not really in pieces. Or tell George Bush to speak English like an adult. Especially as it impacts the big stuff, like war and peace and life and death.

Anything else is simple linguistic co-dependency.